Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Psalm 71 - An Old Man's Prayer

This psalm was written by a believer in his old age (vv. 9, 18). He has trusted in God since childhood (v. 5), indeed he suggests that he was depending on God from before he was born (v. 6). As he looked back, he realised that it was God who had taken him safely from his mother’s womb, and he prayed that the Lord would continue to look after him now that life was drawing to a close.

It is clear that the psalmist felt insecure. His sense of insecurity came from human enemies who were too powerful for him (v. 4). Yet he knew that the Lord could help and he imagined the Lord as his rescuer, safe place (rock), and impregnable fortress. The fears of the aged in our day may not be human opponents; nevertheless the remedy is the same as the psalmist’s – trust in God.

The psalmist recalls how long he has known the Lord (vv. 5-8). In fact, he cannot recall a time when the Lord was not his helper. Whenever he had needed the Lord, even in the times before he could assess his circumstances (such as when he was in his mother’s womb), God had helped him. Therefore he praised the Lord for his constant care of him.

The writer also used his memory of God’s goodness as a stimulus for prayer in the present (vv. 9-13). He was now old and weak, and his opponents imagined that even God had abandoned him. The only one to whom the psalmist could turn to for help was the Lord, and he did by asking for complete deliverance and vindication. What seemed impossible to the eyes of nature was very visible to the eyes of faith.

The effect of realising anew the power of God created in the psalmist’s heart a sense of mission. Instead of having no role to play, he realised that he had a very important one, which was to make known to the next generation the great things that the Lord had done in history and for him personally. The challenge for aged believers, as it is for others, is to talk about the Lord’s actions instead of their own dilemmas. Therefore, the psalmist asked for divine favour to continue speaking about God’s righteous activities (vv. 14-18). The psalmist could speak about what God did for Israel; we can speak about what he has done in Christ for his church. But the author also knows that words without prayer, even from the mouth of an aged believer, will be ineffective. So he prays for God’s divine presence and help.

His meditation on what he should do in his old age has led to the psalmist having renewed confidence in God. His God can work on the big scale or on the small scale. Neither can the psalmist get into a situation, even his old age, which is beyond the Lord’s interest and grace. Instead the psalmist realises that he should be looking forward to experiencing God’s restoration and comfort in the future (vv. 19-21). The proper response to this future blessing is present praise.

In verses 23 and 24, the psalmist indicates that what he had feared – the opposition of his enemies – had been dealt with comprehensively by the Lord. Therefore he had every reason to continue speaking to others about his God. We also have our reasons for speaking about him today.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Psalm 70 - Reminding God to Help Us

According to the heading of the psalm, David composed it to be sung when the memorial offering was made (the memorial offering was part of the grain offering). The psalm is almost the same as Psalm 40:13-17. We cannot tell why these verses of Psalm 40 have been more or less repeated, although it is reasonable to think that the composer realised that they contained suitable themes for reflection when making the memorial offering. One difference between Psalm 70 and Psalm 40 is that the pleas in Psalm 70 are more urgent.

David wants each worshipper, when presenting his memorial offering, to ask God to remember him quickly if he was under attack. Usually such a person was in trouble, facing danger from his opponents, even as in this case death. His only refuge was the Lord, a reality that God’s people often go through. Asking the Lord for help is a strong expression of faith. It is a sign of little self-confidence and of great God-confidence. Asking the Lord for help is also a sign of wisdom, evidence that we know about his abilities. Such asking is the outcome of previous experiences when we discovered the Lord’s faithfulness to those who trust in him. Since he helped before, he will help again and again.

Further, when making the memorial offering David wants the worshipper to remember all of God’s people (v. 4). No doubt, the worshipper could see many of them in the temple as he made his offering and it was easy, in a sense, to remember to pray for them. David desired the spiritual progress of other believers and he did not allow his personal circumstances to prevent expressions of brotherly love. He also reveals the priority for believers – to rejoice in God and praise him for his saving grace. So the psalmist prayed that joyful worship would take place even although he himself was feeling sad and isolated.

David also wants the worshipper, when presenting the memorial offering, to affirm his faith in God by expecting his help (v. 5). The psalmist realises that in himself he is weak and fragile, but he has learned to use his weaknesses as arguments in prayer to God. Embarrassment did not keep him from admitting his weakness, which it often can do in everyday situations. David had learned that the Lord helps the helpless and can rescue them from whatever difficulties that are overwhelming them.

Of course, we don’t have to engage in a sacrificial ritual when asking God to remember us. Yet when praying for ourselves we must remember to pray for others.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Psalm 69 - A Cry for Help

Psalm 69 is well-known for two reasons. The first reason is that verse 9 describes Jesus’ devotion to God’s worship (John 2:17) and the other reason is that verses 22-29 ask God to take vengeance on one’s enemies (such psalms are known as Imprecatory Psalms, and there are quite a few in this category).

Although verse 9 describes the zeal of Jesus, the whole psalm does not apply to him. In verse 5, the psalmist confesses his sin, and that verse could never be on the lips of Jesus. Do any of the other verses apply to the Saviour? Some would suggest that verse 21, with its reference to persons giving the psalmist sour wine to drink, is a prophecy of what happened to Jesus on the cross. It may be, but the problem with this suggestion is that it would mean that David was not referring to his own experience when he mentioned it in the psalm. It must have referred to David, but we could then say that it depicts what Jesus experienced on the cross.

It is clear from verses 1-5 that David is in deep spiritual trouble and that there is no sign of divine deliverance despite his earnest prayers for it. He is surrounded by many enemies (v. 4), yet his main concern is that his circumstances may have an adverse effect on the people of God (v. 6). So although he feels abandoned by God, he has not lost a strong sense of brotherly love, which we recognize as evidence that God was sanctifying him throughout his troubles. Nevertheless his isolation has included those whom one would normally expect to help him – his family (v. 8). David at this time truly had no-one to turn to but his God.

The psalmist recalls his passion for the things of God (vv. 9-12). His dedication included public acts of penitence (he wore sackcloth and fasted), but his devotion was mocked by those who saw him. He mentions their contempt in God’s ear, because he knows that God will sympathize with him.

David knew that his only hope was in God and appealed to him to remember his covenant faithfulness (v. 13). By this time David was in deep trouble (he is already sinking in the mire, he is nearly submerged by the waters), but he knows that it is never too late to look for God’s help (vv. 14-15). His experience is a reminder that sometimes God does not send his help until the last second.

David also goes into great detail regarding his situation, but does so in faith (e.g. vv. 16-21). Although his enemies are many and powerful, he knows that his covenant God is able to rescue him from them. He mentions his feelings – distress, broken heart, despair. Desperate situations normally make us honest in God’s presence. He contrasts his opponents with God – he is marked by mercy, but they are marked by cruelty.

In verses 22-29, David calls for divine judgment on his enemies. Why does he do this? He is not expressing a desire for personal revenge. Rather, because he is the leader of God’s kingdom, it is appropriate for him to ask God to remove strong opponents whose aim is the destruction of God’s cause. David has been prevented by them from fulfilling his God-given function to rule over Israel, so in verse 29 he asks explicitly for kingly elevation.

It is clear from verses 30-36 that the Lord heard the cry of David. He is now offering public thanksgiving and he makes two observations about it. First, thanksgiving is more important than animal or any other kinds of sacrifices; and second, thanksgiving encourages those who are seeking the Lord for their own deliverances. This means that we should acknowledge publicly when God helps us; a failure to do so robs other believers of legitimate encouragement.

His personal deliverance and subsequent restoration to his role informed David that God had great plans for Israel in the future (vv. 34-36). The psalmist knew that what God had done for him he would also do for all who trust in him. Every answered prayer is a reminder from God that the future of his kingdom is bright.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Psalm 68 - The zeal of Jesus

We mentioned briefly yesterday that the psalmist in Psalm 69:9 prophesied about the zeal of Jesus and we can read a fulfilment of it in John 2:17 when he attended the temple in Jerusalem. I want us to think about that zeal again today.

The first time we read of Jesus after the events connected to his birth is when he went to the temple as a twelve year old boy. That may have been the first time he was there since he was an infant. Whether it was or not, one detail is clear and that is his zeal to discover his Father's will (Luke 2:41-51). So he did not become zealous only after he began his public ministry. It marked him from his earliest years.

That incident informs us that a crucial aspect of his zeal was his desire to honour God's Word. This was why he was interacting with the teachers in the temple. We are not told what they were discussing, but it is evident that Jesus as a twelve-year-old loved to discuss the Bible and its message. Therefore we should not be surprised that later on, when he went to the temple as an adult and saw the abuse of God's Word taking place there (John 2:17), he showed his zeal by removing unbiblical practices from the temple precincts. 

We all know that Jesus was marked by devoted love at all times. Whenever and wherever he was he loved his Father with all his strength and he loved his neighbour as himself. How would that twofold description of love show itself in the temple that day? The temple was intended to be a place where people went to pray to God, to receive from him. Instead of that happening, the temple officials were robbing the people. Love for his Father and love for sinners compelled Jesus to be angry at such terrible dishonour being shown to God. It would not have been right for him to stay silent when things were being done that insulted the name of his Father.

Of course, zeal can show itself in other ways. We are meant to be like Jesus and have a zeal for the things of God. The church in Laodicea did not have such zeal (Rev. 3:14-22). Instead they were lukewarm as far as God's worship was concerned. Jesus informed them that they were like the tepid water that the people in the city often had to drink and which made them sick. A church without zeal does not give a pleasant taste to Jesus.

On that occasion in the temple when Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Psalm 69 he indicated that he wanted it to be a place of earnest prayer. This is one of the features he still wants to see among his worshippers. Indeed his reference to prayer reminds us that earnest and heartfelt prayer is one of the clearest evidences of zeal in the Christian life.

What would Jesus say and do if he came to our services as he came to the temple in Jerusalem? But while he will not come physically, he will be present as he was in Laodicea, assessing accurately the spiritual temperature of those who are worshipping God. May he find our hearts to be very hot in spiritual affections for him, burning with a desire to understand his Word and longing to experience his great blessings!

Monday, 27 October 2014

Psalm 68 - Participating in the Victory Parade

This psalm celebrates the arrival of the ark of the covenant in Jerusalem. The ark symbolised the presence of God and David, in this psalm, highlights the joy (v. 3) and security (v. 5) his people have from knowing God was with them in a special way. Not only had the ark found a home, but God had provided a prosperous dwelling-place (Canaan) for his people (v. 6).

In verses 7-10, David refers to the journey made by the Israelites from Egypt and he highlights God’s miraculous provision of rain for the weary travellers. As Spurgeon put it, ’Such rain has never fell before dropped on the desert sand…. As at the end of each stage, when they halted, weary with the march, they found such showers of good things awaiting them that they were speedily refreshed.’ Then, in verses 11-15 David refers to a great victory God had given to the armies of Israel in the territory of Bashan, perhaps a reference to the battles fought by Barak and Deborah. David, as he describes the parade that accompanied the arrival of the ark in Jerusalem, reminds God’s people of what his presence had meant to previous generations.

His description of the parade continues in verses 16-19. Their enemies (represented by the mountains of Bashan) could not prevent God’s arrival at his chosen dwelling-place. The psalmist pictures God arriving as a conqueror, surrounded by the heavenly host (the thousands of chariots), with all the enemies he has defeated on his journey from Egypt, which began at the Exodus, now chained to the chariots. Perhaps there was a danger of the Israelites looking back to Sinai and wishing they could enjoy a similar experience of God. David reminds them that such a presence is now in the place where the ark is located (v. 17).

Paul quotes some of these verses in Ephesians 4 and applies them to the ascension of Jesus when he journeyed to heaven in triumph after his victory on the battlefield of Calvary. By extension, we can say that the presence of God that was known at Sinai and in the dwelling-place of the ark is a very safe place for us to enter because Jesus has gone there on behalf of us – from there he daily gives spiritual gifts to us through his chosen representatives. Rebels are urged to become part of his victory parade and join the numberless ranks who are marching behind Jesus to his dwelling-place

David continues describing the parade in the rest of the psalm. His people can celebrate future triumphs over ancient enemies, even death itself; such divinely-given victories will be overwhelming in scale (vv. 20-23). In verses 24-27, David lists the order of certain groups and tribes in the procession, probably to stress the bond of unity that God’s people enjoyed on that occasion. Of course, unity should mark God’s people still.

As he observes the march, David is led to pray that God would continue to reveal his great power (v. 28), so that in the future kings and nations from all over the world would come and worship at Jerusalem (vv. 29-31). Although at that moment, they were enemies of Israel, David looked ahead to when Egyptians and Ethiopians would become fellow-worshippers of God. This desire of David is being fulfilled as the gospel is spread and persons from all nations join the parade.

David concludes the psalm with words of worship (vv. 32-35). He rejoices in anticipating the future success of the kingdom of God and ascribes its development solely to the power of God. As we look into the sanctuary where Jesus now is, we can see evidences of divine power that not even David could fully anticipate. One of the most abused words today is ‘awesome’ – but it is one that describes the court of King Jesus. From there, he ‘gives power and strength to his people’ so that they can serve him wholeheartedly as they celebrate the march to Zion. Blessed be God!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Psalm 67 - Prayer for Worldwide Blessing

The psalm does not mention who wrote it or when it was composed. The first verse is possibly a response to the priestly benediction found in Numbers 6:24-25, which promised God’s blessing on his people (v. 1). Further, the contents of the psalm are based on God’s promise to Abraham about his seed being a blessing to the world (v. 2).

It is clear from the psalm that the reason why they wanted God to bless them was that, through them, his blessing would extend to all the nations (v. 2). This is a reference to the promise given to Israel that the Messiah would be born in one of their families – so this psalm is all about Jesus. The outcome of his arrival would be joy all over the world because he would become the universal King (vv. 3-4), which we know took place after his ascension.

The psalm is also connected to the annual harvest of crops (v. 6). No doubt, God’s people were distressed that pagan nations praised idols for providing their temporal needs. These believers were upset that God was denied praise for his goodness and longed for the time when he would be praised by all nations (v. 5). Indeed his rich provision for humanity’s natural needs led God’s people to pray that he would soon provide them with spiritual benefits. They were confident he would do so, although they did not know when (v. 7).

No doubt, this psalm began to be fulfilled when Jesus sent out his apostles with the gospel to all the world. It is a portion of God’s Word which tells what is taking place in the world today. God has answered the prayers of his Old Testament people for the day when the Gentiles would come into his kingdom, and he is now gathering them to himself from every nation of the world. This psalm is a prophecy being fulfilled before our eyes, and we will see it happening by wearing the spectacles of the Bible.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Psalm 66 - Thanking God for Communal and Personal Deliverance

The unknown author of the psalm seems to have been thinking about the marvellous deliverance of Israel from Egypt at the Exodus (v. 6), which would indicate that the psalm was sung at the annual Passover feast. Although he had not been there personally, he identified himself with those who had experienced it (the last line of verse 6 says, ‘There we did rejoice in him’).

Such a triumph reminded God’s people that he was keeping his eye on their enemies (v. 7). Yet the psalmist wants the nations to come and see what God did back then (v. 5), which raises the question, ‘Where could they see an event that occurred several centuries previously?’ The answer to that question is that they could see it in God’s written account of the event recorded in the Bible.

The psalmist evidently considered that activity of God as having a message for the nations. They were to consider that God easily defeated the most powerful earthly army of the time – the only appropriate response to the display of his power is worship (vv. 1-4). We today are aware of an even greater victory of God over his enemies – the victory obtained by Jesus on the cross when he defeated the powers of darkness.

It is not clear which time of trouble is referred to in verses 8-12. There are many occasions in the history of Israel and Judah which could be described in these verses. His description does not indicate that the described experience was one of divine chastisement. Instead it was a period of severe testing when God, in his providence, allowed their enemies to dominate their lives. Yet he was always in control, and when the time of testing was completed he brought them to a prosperous place. This is often the way the Lord works. Difficulties in our lives are his way of testing us, but he will eventually provide rich consolation.

In the second half of the psalm (vv. 13- ), the scene moves to the temple. The psalmist’s description of what took place there is in two parts. In the first section, found in verses 13-15, the psalmist reveals that he had promised God that he would offer burnt offerings to him (a burnt offering signified total dedication). He explains in the second section (vv. 16-20) why he did so. God had heard his prayers for deliverance. The psalmist mentions two important aspects of answered prayer. One is that we should share with others when God answers our prayers and the other is that sinful thoughts will prevent us from receiving answers to our prayers.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Psalm 65 - Thanking God for the Harvest

The third section of the psalm (verses 9-13) indicates that it was composed in thanksgiving for the annual harvest. Yet the thanksgiving section is preceded by two other sections: the first describes worship at the temple (verses 1-4) and the second describes God’s control of the elements (verses 5-8) . The psalmist, by this arrangement, is telling us that the harvest is dependant on the God who answers prayer and is in control of the world.

We can picture the worshippers gathering at the temple with their thoughts focussed on God. They are conscious that they have come together to pay their vows to him (they probably had promised the Lord that if he gave them a good harvest they would thank him publicly at the place of worship). They knew that he had answered that prayer, and receiving such an answer gave them confidence that he would answer other prayers, specifically prayer for the ingathering of the Gentiles (all flesh). So the psalmist describes God as the one who answers past and future prayers.

Yet as they gather for worship, their thoughts seem to be on the purity of God. This can be deduced from the real possibility that they are silent (the first line can be translated, ‘To you belongs silence and praise’). The reason why they are silent is stated in verse 3 – their sinfulness. Perhaps they are waiting for the sacrifices to be offered that would signify that atonement had been made for them. The silence adds to the solemnity of the gathering. David here reminds us that there is a place in God’s worship for silent contemplation of our sinfulness.

Nevertheless, although they are sinful, they also know that they are welcome into God’s presence. He is the one who has initiated the process by choosing them (election) and bringing them near (reconciliation). Now they can remain in his presence and enjoy his goodness (perhaps a reference to the grain offerings which some may have offered out of gratitude for the harvest or maybe a reference to the peace offerings which were eaten within the temple and symbolised that they were at peace with God). All this made them realise that the temple was holy – the idea of holiness is elevation above the mundane (of course, the glory of God makes everything else mundane), and there is nothing so high as the God of grace meeting with his people. The one who is holy meets with the unclean who have been pardoned by him.

In the second section (verses 5-8), the psalmist considers the power of God. His power is seen in the ways in which he answers prayer, particularly in how he provided salvation for Israel, probably from Egypt (v. 5). David’s spiritual logic is interesting – he deduces from Israel’s deliverances that God’s blessing will yet extend to all peoples. Probably he worked out that since God had kept his promise to Abraham about the deliverance of his descendants from Egypt, so he would keep his other promise to Abraham that through his Seed all the nations would be blessed.

In addition to being the Redeemer, God is also the Creator who planted the mountains by his power, who calms the oceans by his power, and controls the nations by his power. Even those who are ignorant of what he did for Israel are aware that there is a supreme being who is in daily control of the world (vv. 6-8), and who every day provides them with items that bring joy and happiness.

The third section (verses 9-13) is concerned with the provision of God for his people. David acknowledges that the Lord had granted a bountiful harvest and thanks him for sending the rain that ensured there would be ample crops. He likens God’s actions to a King in a royal chariot who, wherever it went, provided a rich harvest (v. 11) – a picture of how God delights to give in great abundance from his throne. Such is the supply that even the creation itself – animals and fields – seems to be singing in harmony.

It is always good to think of God’s purity, power and provision whenever we gather to worship him.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Psalm 64 - Telling God about our Enemies

David details in this psalm how he responded to his enemies. He is aware of their secret counsels against him and of the various schemes they are planning. When he discovered their plans, he brought it all before the Lord. This knowledge he defines as a ‘complaint’, not against God but against his opponents. He lists various aspects of their intentions in verses 1-6 before summarising how God will deal with them in verses 7-10.

It is interesting to note that David’s concern is not so much with their threats but with his fear of their threats (v. 1). In other words, he realises that his current dread is an expression of lack of faith. He understands that often our own fear is the problem rather than the actual strength of the opposition, even if it is powerful. His response is also a reminder that we should be concerned primarily about our lack of faith when such circumstances occur.

David uses the same illustration to describe their plans and God’s response – arrows. The difference is that they have many arrows, which because of God’s defence of David will be ineffective. In contrast, God uses only one arrow, and that display of divine power is sufficient to defeat all of David’s enemies.

David also highlights another way by which God often works against his opponents and that is when he in his providence causes them to argue among themselves (v. 8). What they had planned in secret eventually becomes public, and becomes public in such a way that causes other to treat them with contempt. Or the verse could mean that their words, originally said in secret, will yet return to condemn them (just as some words and e-mails of News International and other media organisations are doing at present). The psalmist is confident that the threats of his opponents will yet be their undoing.

The outcome of such divine work is that people will take notice of it (v. 9). They will not be able to avoid deducing that God had come to the rescue of his servant. Sometimes we forget that people are affected when God works dramatically in his providence. As Spurgeon commented, ‘The judgements of God are frequently so clear and manifest that men cannot mis-read them, and if they have any thought at all, they must extract the true teaching from them.’

God’s people too will react to his providence (v. 10). Their response will be joyful trust in him. What had happened to David affected them all. His enemies were their foes, and his triumph over these opponents brought deliverance to his subjects. In a far higher way, the triumph of Jesus over his enemies has resulted in the deliverance of his people and they should show their gratitude by having a joyful trust in him.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Psalm 63 - Thirsting for God

According to the heading David wrote this psalm when he was in the Judean desert, and it is obvious that he made use of his physical surroundings to describe what he was feeling in his heart. He does not say why he is in the desert, although verses 9-11 reveal he is concerned about his enemies – so he may have been pursuing them or fleeing from them (as when he fled from Absalom). It was written after he had become king, so it does not refer to when he was in the desert and pursued by Saul.

In the psalm, David mentions three places where he thought about God: the desert (v. 1), the tabernacle (v.2) and his bed (v. 6). The dry desert illustrates what he feels in his heart when he cannot sense the presence of God. David clearly found this to be a trying experience. His experience was not caused by lack of assurance – he stresses his awareness of his relationship with God in verse 1. What he was aware of was the absence of God’s comforting presence. In response, David did two things: he prayed earnestly (v. 1) and he used his memory (vv. 2ff.)

We can see him using his memory in verse 2 as he thinks about what he has seen in the tabernacle. There he had seen God’s provision of a sacrificial system to meet David’s needs as a sinner. David, as he thought of how God had redeemed his people from slavery and arranged for them to meet with him through worship, realised that such a provision was a great display of divine power and glory and reminded him of God’s faithful love to his people (v. 3). Thinking about such aspects of God caused David to dedicate himself to praise God continually in the future (v. 4). If this was David’s response to worship marked by rituals and ceremonies, how much more should it be ours when we see the gospel fullness that God has given to us!

In verses 5-8 David anticipates the spiritual benefits that will come to him from thinking about God during the night hours (evidently he had done this many times). He knows that these hours will provide him with satisfying spiritual food, and he will realise again the different ways in which God has helped him. Recalling who God is and what he has done will lead David to see that he is safe under the shadow of God’s wings – he likens God to a mother bird protecting her young. In such a secure location, it is inevitable that David will sing songs of great joy to God (v. 7). Therefore we can understand why he was determined to have such fellowship with God while others were sleeping (v. 8).

The outcome of such contemplation about God is that the psalmist realises the inevitable defeat of his enemies (vv. 9-11). He cannot be touched by them as long as God protects him. The outcome will be that his people will join him in praising God because they will also see his power over his enemies. For David’s subjects, it is further evidence that God is working on behalf of his kingdom. What was experienced by King David in this regard is a picture of the triumph that King Jesus will have over his opponents as his kingdom grows. And if David’s subjects rejoiced at his kingly progress, how much more should we rejoice at the majestic advancement of King Jesus!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Psalm 62 - Waiting on God

The heading does not indicate when David wrote this psalm. The psalm itself is divided into three sections (1-4, 5-8, 9-12) and we can see from the first section that David has been under secret attack from hypocritical opponents who had pretended to be his friends. His response was to look to God for help.

In verse 1 David describes his soul as waiting in silence before God. This is a picture of calmness, of confidence. As Spurgeon observed, ‘Faith can hear the footsteps of coming salvation, because she has learned to be silent.’ David has this response because he knows by experience what God can do for him. Previously he had known divine deliverances, which he illustrates by calling God his rock and his fortress (v. 2). The obvious lesson for us is that past occasions of divine help should enable us to expect his assistance when new troubles come.

In the second section, David repeats his confidence in God. Yet he is sensitive to the fears of those who are with him (v. 8), and exhorts them to trust in the Lord as well. David is aware that they may not be able to rest silently in God and he reminds them that it is good for them to pour out their hearts in his presence. Faith in God will show itself in different ways. For some, faith at times is a quiet confidence; for others, there will be non-stop speaking to God about their burdens. Both responses are expressions of faith, and the same individual will usually know both at different times in his life. After all, David himself on other occasions was not in such a calm mood as he was when he penned this psalm (cf. Psalm 32:3-4). What actually matters is that God is the refuge for both the calm soul and the troubled soul.

In section three, David turns from contemplating God to describing his opponents. Compared to God, all of them are transitory and their methods, even if providing temporary growth in assets, will not provide long-term gain. Instead we have to remember the power and faithfulness of God, and how he will eventually sort things out and give to each person what their actions deserve. Those who depend on his grace will receive grace, those who rebel will receive punishment.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Psalm 61 - A King Anticipates a Kingdom

This short psalm, which is generally regarded as connected to the experience of David during the rebellion of his son Absalom, is in two parts. Verses 1-4 are a prayer for deliverance and verses 5-8 are an anticipation of restoration.

Verse 1 reveals the urgency in David’s prayer. Situations for prayer are often varied and sometimes prayers are more earnest than at other times. God seemed to be at a distance at this time, therefore David cries louder. It is appropriate when in a time of trouble to make noisy prayers.

Geographically David is far away from Jerusalem (v. 2), the place where God was worshipped; yet the psalmist still must pray, even although his circumstances have made him faint. Providence may have shut the door of his earthly palace temporarily for David, but it does not shut the door of the heavenly palace and David therefore prayed. He wanted to be led by God to a safe place, a high rock where his opponents could not attack him, which is probably an illustration of God himself.

In verse 3, David uses his memory as an aid in prayer. As Spurgeon said, ‘Experience is the nurse of faith. From the past we gather arguments for present confidence.’ The psalmist recalls how God helped him in the past, and we should do the same when under spiritual attack.

Recollecting what God had done for him in the past enabled David to have confidence about the future (v. 4). Although he was facing current problems, he knew his future was secure. He anticipated eventually being in the very presence of God, illustrated here by the psalmist’s allusion to the wings of the cherubim above the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies.

In verse 5, David recalls vows he had made to God, personal promises that accompanied his prayers. It was customary for believers, when in trouble, to promise to give something to God if he delivered them. Vows in this sense are suitable, although it would be absurd to promise something that we could not pay. Vowing to give a gift to God is an expression of a grateful heart. For example, a Christian may promise to engage in a form of Christian work as an expression of thankfulness to God for answering a prayer.

What is the heritage mentioned by David? Clearly it is one that is common to all believers, those who fear God’s name. Probably David has in mind all the promises and blessings that are connected to salvation. Yet although he was a king, what mattered more to him was the inheritance he shared with all God’s people.

In verses 6 and 7, David uses the third person to speak about himself. Yet he goes beyond his own situation and describes a king whose reign will be eternal. It is likely that David saw, in his own rejection and subsequent exaltation, a picture of what would happen to the Messiah, that although he would be rejected, he would reign forever.

Therefore, in verse 8, David promises to praise God continually. He does not specify what his vows entailed, but evidently they involved daily fulfilment. Of course, whether we have vowed or not, it is a Christian duty to praise God daily for his rich kingdom and his royal King.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Psalm 60 - Fight with God's Help

David composed this psalm during a military campaign against Edom that also involved Joab and Abishai (2 Sam. 8:13; 1 Chr. 18:12). It is not unusual for victories by a general to also be assigned to his overlord. There was a line of command from David down to Joab and down to Abishai. So each of them are assigned the credit for the subsequent victories over the Edomites, with perhaps each of them leading different sections of the Israelite army in separate aspects of the campaign.

Yet it is clear from the psalm that initially things had not gone well. Verses 1-4 are a lament in which David complains that God has abandoned the land to its enemies. Nevertheless his understanding of why defeat comes is important to notice. It was not the power of their enemies that brought on the defeat – instead it was the anger of God for his people’s sins. The psalmist acknowledged that this was the case, and such an acknowledgement is necessary before victory will be provided by God.

Still the lament contains a ray of hope because David acknowledges in verse 4 that God has provided a banner under which his people may be safe. A banner was a sign indicating the presence of an important person, and here the one with the banner is God.

The salvation indicated by the banner is further described in verses 5-8. David knows that God can give complete deliverance in answer to prayer to those he loves (v. 5). The basis of his optimism is a special message that God had given, probably at the Tabernacle through one of the priests (v. 6a). In this message God promises national deliverance (he mentions several parts of the country in verses 6b-7) and great victories (he mentions several enemies in derogatory terms in verse 8). It is important to note that God, not David, is speaking in verses 6b-8. David’s comfort came from God’s promises.

David responds in verses 9-12. He is fully aware that defeating Edom will be hard because of its fortified cities (if any of you have been to the Nabatean city of Petra in Jordan, you would have seen what a fortified city looked like, and how difficult it would have been to capture – before the Nabtateans ruled it, it was an Edomite city). The only one who can lead them to victory is God, the very one who had previously not helped them (v. 10). David does not trust in human initiatives (v. 11) but in the Lord who can give complete victory (v. 12).

The lessons of the psalm are obvious. First, if are not experiencing victories over spiritual enemies, the reason is that we have offended God and he is chastising us. Second, we have to repent of our sins and ask God for restoration. Third, we are to base future victories on the large promises of God and not on inadequate human abilities (a description that describes all human abilities). Fourth, even when we are restored to his favour, we have to continue to pray for his presence and power.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Psalm 59 - Coping with Opponents

The heading of the psalm indicates that David wrote it ‘when Saul sent men to watch his house in order to kill him’ (see 1 Samuel 19). David’s response was to compose this prayer, and his doing so gives insight into his ongoing confidence in the Lord, and how the psalmist used the situation to grow in grace. The psalmist’s reaction is an example for us when opponents work against us. Throughout the psalm we see David developing an increasing sense of confidence in God and a decreasing fear of his opponents.

In the first section (vv. 1-5), David prays for deliverance from his enemies. He asks for constant protection because he cannot even see them (they are in hiding waiting to ambush him, v. 3, and later in the psalm David says that they only come near him when it is dark). The psalmist is aware that their attack is unjustified because he has not done anything to cause the king to be against him. It is good to have a clear conscience at all times.

In turning to the Lord, David uses a very bold illustration when he asks the Lord to ‘awake’. Of course, David knew that God did not sleep. Yet he connected his prayers to what he felt and not just to his doctrinal knowledge. Sometimes doctrinal prayers can be passionless, and we have to remind ourselves that God desires ardent as well as accurate prayers. It is very difficult to cope with a situation in which God seems to be indifferent. When that happens, it is appropriate to address the Lord in the way that David prays here. It is almost as if he is saying to God, ‘Lord, come and pay attention to my situation.’

In an additional petition, which may sound strange to us given the circumstances, David suddenly jumps from his own situation and asks the Lord to punish all nations (v. 5). Perhaps he saw in the attack of Saul’s men an example of the universal opposition to God’s kingdom. The development of that kingdom was connected to David’s future position as king, so their attack was also an attack on God’s kingdom.

In the second section (vv. 6-13), David describes in more detail the attacks of his opponents. They are like howling and prowling wild dogs. The howls are expressions of self-confidence and pride. David observes that in fact they are impotent against God – he will treat them with contempt. In such a God David can take refuge and expect the necessary help that will give to him complete victory.

It is important to note that David does not want personal revenge. This section makes clear that his primary concern is not personal safety but the safety of God’s people. That is why he wants the Lord to remove completely those who are conspiring against his chosen king. And the psalmist wants the Lord to do this in such a way that will make it clear to the whole earth that God rules.

In the third section (vv. 14-17), David again likens the activities of his opponents to wild dogs. Nevertheless he says more about his relationship with God than about the actions of his enemies. This change of focus usually occurs when a believer thinks simultaneously about God and the opposition. Thinking about God in this way has led David to realise how powerful his God is, and that then leads him to sing about the Lord. It is a lot easier to sing about God after we have thought about him.

The enemies attack him each evening, but the psalmist knows that the evenings will pass safely because God is his fortress, and that when each morning comes he will praise God for deliverance. In a sense, David here is telling us to take one day at a time, and focus on God on a daily basis.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Psalm 58 - God and Some Politicians

In this psalm David assesses the unrighteous government that he has observed (the reference to ‘gods’ in verse 1 does not mean idols – rather it is a description of human rulers). They should rule righteously, but instead the engage in sinful decisions (v. 2). The root of such decisions is found in their sinful hearts (v. 3). The judges that David had encountered were like snakes (vv. 4-5): the serpent’s venom illustrated the effects of their decisions and the adder’s deafness depicted their indifference to the voice of God, the ultimate Judge. Sometimes we are surprised by the laws decided upon by governments, yet we should also remember that they, like all other humans, have a tendency to disobey God’s law because they do not fear him.

In verses 6-9, David prays with great longing for the removal of such judges. We are familiar with the use of illustrations by preachers in order to clarify their message. What we are not used to is the use of illustrations in a prayer in order to highlight the intensity of desire for God to act in judgement. David uses several illustrations – the effects of their decisions are like the damage resulting from the teeth of lions, so David asks God to make these judges into toothless lions unable to harm anyone; David wants them to evaporate like water; he wants their arrows (their decisions) to be blunted; he wants them to dissolve like a snail into slime; he wishes that they had never been born; he wants them to be like the thorns used for heating pots, about to be burned in a fire. Each of these illustrations, mentioned one after another, reveal the passion that David had for justice and the longing he had for injustice to disappear.

Verses 10 and 11 are an expression of David’s confidence that God would yet intervene and act against unjust rulers. When divine intervention occurs and the wicked are punished, those who love justice will rejoice. God will vindicate his standards eventually and have complete victory (in verse 10, David depicts the righteous as crushing unjust rulers under their feet, a picture of complete triumph). Such divine intervention will cause everyone to recognise that God eventually sets things right.

When we sing the psalm from our hearts, we are expressing our hatred of sin, our love for justice, our longing for a perfect world, and a willingness to leave all vengeance with God.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Psalm 57 - From the Cave

This psalm was written by David when he was hiding from Saul in a cave, although whether it cannot be deduced whether it was the cave of Adullam (1 Sam. 22) or the cave at Engedi (1 Sam. 24). As we think about the psalm, three details stand out.

First, there is David’s concept of his God (vv. 1-3). God is his protector, as illustrated in the beautiful illustration of the Lord as a mother bird taking care of her young. David’s faith grasped that his current situation was temporary, even if he did not know how long it would be. It is interesting that Boaz uses the same imagery when he spoke to Ruth, David’s great-grandmother: ‘The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!’ (Ruth 2:12).

David may have been thinking of the description of God’s help to Israel when they were under threat from enemies: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself’ (Exod. 19:4). This is an image of supernatural help. Or David may have been referring to the wings of the cherubim above the mercy seat where the atonement was made. If that is what David meant, then his safety is in a reconciled God.

God also has a purpose for David’s life, although we should note that David’s awareness of this fact did not cause him to be unconcerned about his circumstances; instead it led him to pray. Further God deals with David in pity; divine mercy was the motive for David’s deliverance. Therefore, despite his enemies having confidence in his destruction, he was safe.

Second, there is David’s contempt for his enemies (vv. 4-6). They are fierce, as seen in his description of them as lions. It is their words that he refers to, probably their threatenings. But the Lord came to his rescue and they fell into the trap they had prepared for him. God was working in providence on David’s behalf.

Third, there is David’s confidence about his future (vv. 7-11). Experiencing the Lord’s deliverance from his enemies has helped him develop a united heart in which doubt about his future has been removed. This does not mean that all his difficulties were past, but he now had the confidence in God that enabled him to proceed through them. He resolved to give to God the first hours of the day.

Again David is grateful to the Lord for his mercy in rescuing and protecting him and he realises that the Lord will be true to his covenant promise made to David when Samuel anointed him.

Further he anticipated the day when he would conquer other nations on behalf of God and sing to the Lord in these places. In this he anticipated the Lord Jesus who today sings among the nations the glorious gospel of grace.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Psalm 56 - Recovering the Path

The heading of Psalm 56 indicates that David wrote it at the time he was with Achish, the king of Gath (1 Sam. 21), to whom David had gone for protection from the rage of Saul. Says Matthew Henry concerning Psalm 56: ‘David, in this psalm, by his faith throws himself into the hands of God, even when he had by his fear and folly thrown himself into the hands of the Philistines.’ In verses 1-7 David describes how the Philistines treated him. Also in the psalm he gives insights into how he was restored to walking with God.

Notice six things that David does. First, he praises God through the insights he has received about God from his promises in his word (v. 10). These promises, David had discovered through his own experience, could only be fulfilled by God. But after his own sad and futile attempt to deliver himself he had learned the important lesson that it is only those who know their own inadequacy and inability that can do something for God.

Second, David now saw his enemies in comparison to the greatness of God. As long as he compared his enemies to himself, they remained large and his faith small. But when he contrasted them to God, they became small and his faith was enlarged (vv. 3, 11).

Third, David reminded himself of the knowledge of the Lord. David reflected on how the Lord knew all about his wanderings; ‘God takes cognisance of all the afflictions of his people; and he does not cast out from his care and love those whom men have cast out from their acquaintance and converse’ (Matthew Henry). In verse 8 the psalmist uses three simple illustrations to stress the detailed interest God had in him. First, the Lord counted David’s sleepless nights (as he was restless on his bed); second, the Lord collected David’s tears in a bottle (given his folly, the tears are probably tears of repentance and the Lord gathered each one individually as it fell); third, the Lord recorded these details in a book (since writing was rare at that time, this action indicates the importance God placed on recording David’s spiritual recovery).

Fourth, David saw the importance of mercy (v. 1). Sometimes believers forget their need of mercy; we can take our forgiveness for granted. It is often the case that we need to see our sins and weaknesses again before we will ask for mercy.

Fifth, David saw the power of prayer: ‘Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me’ (v. 9). What he should have done when he fled from Saul, he now does and discovers that such prayer is very effective.

Sixth, David rededicated himself to God: In verse 12 he says, ‘I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you,’ which is probably a promise that he will yet publicly praise God at the tabernacle for his deliverance from the Philistines.

The outcome of the process is that he again had confidence concerning the Lord’s purpose for him. ‘For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life’ (v. 13). Spiritual restoration and recovery are effective steps in resuming one’s walk with God. In human society, confession of faults usually results in punishment and loss of privileges; in God’s kingdom, it brings about enjoyment of his grace.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Psalm 55 - Betrayed

In this psalm, David describes the distress he is under because of ongoing attack by his enemies. His circumstances have worsened because one in whom he trusted has betrayed him and joined his opponents (vv. 12-14, 20-21). From a human point of view such a defection would discourage David’s loyal followers and cause them to wonder if his caused was doomed. Therefore it is not surprising that David was greatly disturbed.

Such an experience however,, has certain benefits. An obvious one is that it is similar to what happened to Jesus when he was betrayed by Judas. This means that Jesus understands when his followers are disappointed when a previous supporter ceases to be with them. Not only does Jesus understand the distress, he is able to provide spiritual comfort from his Word by assuring them that he will never forsake them.

A second benefit from such an experience is that it reminds us not to put our faith in men, no matter how important they are in society or how friendly they seem. Many think that the person David has in mind is Ahitophel, a counsellor who initially supported David but later became an adviser to Saul. Church history is littered with persons who initially seemed favourable to Christ’s cause but later reduced their support because it did not seem prudent to do so. Such fickle supporters were marked by a failure to take the long-term view of the prospects of Christ‘s kingdom. The same type of support may re-appear today and this psalm tells us what to do when it is withdrawn.

The third benefit from such a depressing circumstance is that it increased David’s dependence on God. Of course, this is the ultimate test of every providence, whether it be a difficult one or a pleasant one. David realised that although his burden was now bigger he could still cast it on the Lord (verse 22). We, too, discover that the Lord is always more than capable of dealing with our concerns.

One reason why David wrote the psalm was to encourage his followers as they sang it together. As the psalmist of Israel he had the responsibility of composing songs that would express their fears and disappointments to God and yet express their mutual faith in him. And we do the same when we sing the psalm.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Psalm 54 - Prayer After Betrayal

This psalm was written by David when he was betrayed by the Ziphites when he was on the run from Saul. Ziph was a small town south of Hebron in the territory of Judah. Since David was of the tribe of Judah, he would have expected the Ziphites to be friendly towards him. But this was not the case and we can read about their treachery in 1 Samuel 23:19-23 (they were to betray him again in 1 Samuel 26:1-3). What could David do in response to such disappointments? He could pray to God.

In verse 1, David prays for deliverance and vindication. When he asks God to save by his name, David has in mind God’s character and nature. It is true that God’s names reveal features of his character and it is helpful to meditate on these names. But David probably is appealing to God’s entire character, a character that is marked by faithfulness to his promises and to his people. How different God is in comparison with the unfaithful Ziphites!

The Ziphites may have seemed very powerful, especially when they had Saul’s support. Yet David knew that God was more powerful than any combination of enemies, and therefore he prayed confidently for vindication. Vindication is not the same as revenge, and it is important to maintain the difference. The status of David was bound up with the future of God’s cause and it was appropriate for him to want vindication.

David prayed vocally (v. 2), perhaps a sign of his earnestness in this matter. He details the characters of his opponents, and mentions their cruel intentions, which arose from the fact that they paid no heed to God’s covenant (v. 3). In these petitions, he is not informing God about his opponents; instead David is presenting arguments as to why God should deal with them and help him.

The psalmist also relates his relationship with God, and does so with a sense of wonder (note his use of the term ‘Behold’). David is confident that the Lord will help him and protect him. God’s faithfulness to his character will result in judgement on those who had shown such treachery towards David (vv. 4-5).

David expresses his gratitude by promising to offer a specific sacrifice of thanksgiving at the tabernacle (v. 6). He determined to do so because he had discovered that his God had lived up to his name. The Lord had provided complete deliverance from the intentions and schemes of his opponents (v. 7).

Although David wrote this psalm in connection to a particular act of treachery, its sentiments could be repeated many times in his life. And we also can say the same. We should pray to God whenever we are opposed or disappointed by others, and do so with the knowledge that God will deliver us according to his character and power.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Psalm 53 - Assessing the Fool

The psalm begins with an assessment of a fool who does not believe in the existence of God. Some scholars think that David is speaking about the incident involving Nabal (his name means ‘fool’) in 1 Samuel 25 and uses his character as a description of all who oppose the work of God’s kingdom.

In the Old Testament, the terms ‘fool’ and ‘folly’ don’t refer to a person’s lack of intelligence. Instead they describe the opposite type of person to the ‘wise’ man and his way of life (‘wisdom’). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and such reverential fear marks the wise person in the Old Testament. The fool, in contrast, concludes that he has no need to fear God and lives as if he did not exist (v. 1). Why do the 'fools' make this conclusion? The answer is that their hearts are full of sinful intentions (v. 2). Their choice is not based on evidence, but on desire. The fools want to sin.

Nevertheless David is aware of one great reality, which is that God is continually assessing the minds and intentions of humans, including the fools (v. 2). What does God find? He discovers that corporately they have departed from his ways and become increasingly dishonest, and not even one of them is determined to do good – in the sense of obeying God’s commandments (v. 3). Further, they persecute God’s people and never pray to him (v. 4). David therefore realises those who deny the existence of God have no basis for discovering true personal knowledge of reality, and have no restraint preventing them from personal and increasing sin.

Eventually there comes a situation in which the atheist’s views are tested. David says that then the fool, who previously scoffed at the existence of God, will sense his angry presence and be in great terror in a situation that causes no fear to those who trust in the Lord This was the case with Nabal who became afraid of David when there was no longer a need for such a response (1 Sam. 25:32-37). What happened to Nabal is a picture of what happens to those who oppose God’s kingdom – eventually God deals with them and, instead of triumphing over God’s people, they will be put to shame (v. 5).

Thoughts about the foolish in Israel causes David to long for the spiritual restoration of God’s people. He wants the Lord who dwells in Zion to deliver his people and restore their former prosperity. When that happens, God’s people will be full of joy (v. 6).

This psalm is a reminder that we are not to be overawed by the claims of God’s enemies. Instead we are to imitate David and mention their foolishness to God. We are also to praise God for the fact that he will yet come and deal with his opponents and give spiritual recovery to his people. There are plenty atheists about today, who imagine they know a lot. But they don’t know what we know, which is that God is assessing them and will eventually deal with them and restore his cause.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Psalm 52 - Trust in God in the face of evil

The heading of the psalm indicates that David wrote it after Doeg the Edomite had informed Saul that David had visited Ahimelech the priest. Saul had regarded the actions of Ahimelech as treason and ordered his death. Saul’s soldiers would not obey this instruction, so he turned to Doeg who then performed this macabre act (1 Sam. 22).

No doubt David was greatly distressed by this unforeseen consequence of his visit to the priest. Yet there was nothing that David could do at that time to Doeg. So he wrote this psalm, which at one level is a poem, but at a higher level it is a pronouncement of Doeg’s fate by one who was a prophet. An important aspect of a prophet’s work was to pass on to others the thoughts and intentions of God. So in this psalm, David is not merely expressing his opinion, he is also stating God’s intentions regarding the wicked man, Doeg.

Verses 1-5 are an assessment of Doeg’s character. He boasted about his sin, probably expressing his opinion that no-one could do anything about his actions (after all, he had the backing of King Saul). Indeed, his past wrong actions only encouraged him to plan more in the future. His words were deceitful and cruel. Yet Doeg had forgotten that God would deal with him and eventually bring his life to an end – the verbs ’snatch’ and ’tear’ depict both Doeg’s unwillingness to leave this life and his complete inability to prevent God bringing his life to an end.

Verses 6-9 describe the response of God’s people to this act of judgement. Corporately they will respond by fearing the greatness of God and by affirming the weakness of Doeg (there is such a response as righteous scorn). In particular, they will realise the folly of Doeg in refusing to find real safety in the Lord – because Doeg trusted in his own achievements, he was actually trusting in what would ultimately destroy him (vv. 6-7).

Individually, David responded to Doeg’s destruction by focussing on the security that comes because of faith in the Lord – an olive tree survives for a long time and is a vivid picture of the security of God’s people; a green olive tree in the house of God is a picture of spiritual fruitfulness. David knew that his God would always show faithful love, and even his removal of the wicked Doeg was an aspect of God’s faithfulness to his cause. Therefore he looked forward to thanking God for his faithful love in the presence of his people (vv. 8-9)

What has this ancient song about an ancient event got to do with us? When we sing it, we do three things. First, we recall God’s faithfulness to his people in the past – after all, we belong to the same family. Second, we function as prophets and predict the dire future of all others who behave like Doeg. Third, we thank God for delivering us from such a fate.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Psalm 51 - Penitence for sin

David wrote this psalm as an expression of his repentance for the particular sins he committed when he broke God’s law in connection with Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. Yet his words are more than a personal confession – the psalm is also a method of teaching how we should speak to God after we have sinned (teaching divine truth was a role that David had as a king and as a prophet).

About a year passed between David’s wrong actions and his repentance. Sadly his sins had blinded his mind to what he had done. David does not seem to have realised the awfulness of what he had done until God sent Nathan the prophet to confront him. The effect of Nathan’s message should remind us that the word of God clarifies a situation, which it did for David and he realised the dreadfulness of his actions.

Part of David’s concern would have been the matter that the Levitical law did not contain sacrifices for adulterers and murderers. Yet David was able to see by faith beyond that limitation and go directly to God and ask for mercy and cleansing. The psalmist realised that the most heinous aspect of his actions was his rebellion against God’s law (as a king, David would have regarded very seriously any rebellion by his subjects, and he realised that God was his King). So his faith had to focus on aspects of God’s character that were suitable for the situation – his mercy and his faithful love (vv. 1-4).

David knew that the root cause of his wrong actions was the sinful nature he had inherited at birth (v. 5). Yet his sinful nature did not excuse his action; instead it increased the gravity of his offence. Therefore he prayed for ongoing inner renewal from God. At the same time, he knew that when God forgave him, he would have spiritual joy. This aspect is one that many find hard to understand – how can a guilty person experience joy? The answer is that it is a special joy that accompanies reconciliation with God (vv. 5-8).

David expands his requests in verses 9-15. He asks God not to look at his sins; instead he asks the Lord to blot them out (and if God blots them out, who can see them?). David’s iniquities have made his character ugly, but he knows God can remove that ugliness and replace it with the beauty of a clean heart and a right spirit. The psalmist also wants to enjoy fellowship with God, therefore he prays specifically for the inner work of the Holy Spirit. And through the Spirit’s presence, the psalmist will not only experience joy, he will also become a means of spiritual blessing to other sinners (including all those millions who down the centuries have benefited from his teaching in this psalm). David understands that salvation is not only from sin, it is also for consecration. Therefore it is not surprising that David’s intelligent faith could place confession of sin to God alongside desires of living to the praise of God.

In verses 16-19, David describes true worship, whether in private or in public. What matters most is not the ritual (burnt offerings) but the inner state of the worshipper (a broken and a contrite heart). The ritual is important (God had prescribed it), but it is meaningless without a right state of heart. When the Lord answers prayers for inner penitence, our worship will then be pleasing to him and churches will prosper (illustrated by walls of Jerusalem being erected). A clear lesson is that before we participate in his worship we must have the right inner attitude of penitence for our sins. And it is a reminder that one reason for a lack of church growth is the absence of repentance.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Psalm 50 - God judging his people

The author of the psalm is Asaph and he is probably the chief praise leader mentioned in 1 Chronicles 16:4-7. He wrote several psalms (see 73–83) and in this psalm he describes an appearance of God to judge his people – such an appearance is called a theophany. The psalm has three sections: God’s appearance (vv. 1-6); God’s assessment of Israel’s worship (vv. 7-15); and God’s accusation of the practices of the wicked (vv. 16-23). As we can see from the conclusions of both the second and third sections, the appropriate response to God is thanksgiving, and failure to provide it is a very serious situation.

The description of the appearance of the Lord in verses 1-6 is designed to create a sense of awe in his worshippers. Several titles are used in order to produce an awareness of his greatness (v. 1). We can imagine the attire and activities that accompany a royal visit. On a far higher level, God is dressed in light (v. 2) and his presence is accompanied by disruptions in the natural order (vv. 3-4). His arrival in Zion is likened to a state visit of a monarch, except in God’s case he can use all the resources of heaven and earth to stress the importance of his coming. The reason for his arrival is to assess the condition of his people and pronounce a verdict on their behaviour. It was not unknown for rulers in the ancient world to visit vassal peoples in order to weigh up their devotion and warn them concerning inappropriate activities. Here, Israel is described as those who are God’s covenant subjects (v. 5).

Does God visit his people in a similar way today? He does, and it happens each time we gather together in church. A church service can be viewed from our viewpoint or from God’s. From his perspective, God assesses our priorities by his word and passes judgement on our actions. So while we will not experience a dramatic theophany, we will have a real encounter with him.

In the psalm, God speaks to Israel about their worship of him (vv. 7-14). He acknowledges that they engage in ongoing religious activities, especially sacrifices. It looks as if they thought they were giving a lot to God by this means, but he points out that every animal, and everything else, belonged to him already. What they thought a lot of, he estimated very low. Instead he wanted thanksgiving to accompany their religious activities (vows in verse 14 refer to offering a sacrifice) and specific intercession to mark their lives. Verse 15 indicates that God requires his people to ask him for particular matters in order that, out of gratitude, he will be praised by them for providing his help. Mere external rituals and vague prayers are not pleasing to God. God has drawn near to these worshippers in grace in order to show them that there is a better way of worshipping him.

In the next section (vv. 16-23), God addresses a specific group within Israel who can be described as covenant-breakers. Basically, they are the ones who pay no attention to his commandments and several examples of their misbehaviour are given (vv. 17-20). They had assumed that God’s failure to deal with them meant they would get off with it (v. 21). But now the Judge has appeared to warn them about future punishment if they persist in rebellion (v. 22). Nevertheless he informs them of the right path and of the blessing that will come to those who worship him out of gratitude. I think we can see how this section applies to those who ignore the gospel. To such, God appears in church services and warns them of future judgement. But he also informs them that the response he is looking for is gratitude, especially because of Jesus and his atoning death, and if they respond to him in grateful faith, he will give to them all the blessings of salvation.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Psalm 49 - How to respond to trouble

This psalm is a reflection or meditation on a common feature of life – how to respond to troubles? The psalmist is so confident that he has found the answer to this dilemma that he calls on all people in the world, whatever their social status, to listen to him (vv. 1-2).

It looks as if the psalmist has been cheated by wealthy persons for a considerable period, and it also appears that he could not escape from them or the consequences of their actions (v. 5). At the same time, he knows the origins of much of the wealth that they have and on which they rely (v. 6). In such circumstances, two options faced the psalmist – he could fear his opponents in the short-term or he could look to see what God will do for them and him in the long-term. He wisely chose the second option.

As he thought about it, he realised that their ill-gotten gains could not purchase the one item that they desperately needed, which was deliverance from the power of death. Instead they face the same destiny as others, with the wise and with the foolish. The only guaranteed address in which they will exist for a long time is the grave, even if the space in which it is found is in lands named after them. As the psalmist observes, there is a sense in which the destiny of humans, no matter what they achieve or accomplish, is futility because the only ones who will speak about such successes are their descendants, but they themselves will not be alive to enjoy them (vv. 7-13).

In contrast, the person who trusts in God has a long-term future. Such an individual knows that he too will die, yet his experience of it is very different from what the other person goes through. The psalmist points out that his future involves resurrection from death’s power, royal privileges, and reception into the only house that matters, heaven the dwelling-place of God (vv. 14-15). This is a picture of glorification, the opposite of destruction.

So, says the psalmist, don’t be afraid when you see a person prospering, even at your expense. The fact is, such glory is temporary and he will yet lose it all. Further, don’t judge his status by what he himself or others say about him. Instead, ask yourself if his understanding of spiritual reality is any higher than that of the dogs and cats that walk up and down your streets. The sign of a wise person is that he takes seriously what happens after death, and is concerned about how God wants him to live day by day.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Psalm 48 - The City of God

This psalm was written as an expression of praise to the Lord because he delivered Jerusalem when it was surrounded by a confederation of hostile kings (vv. 4-7). The only enemy that is identified is Tarshish; its ships were destroyed in a storm, perhaps because they were transporting soldiers or supplies to the enemies of Jerusalem. It may have been the destruction of the fleet that caused the enemy alliance to panic and abandon their attack, or the destruction could have happened after an undescribed intervention that cause the invaders to flee.

On reading the psalm, it is clear that sometimes the Lord allows the enemies of his people to get very close to their intended prey before he comes and delivers them. It is also clear from the psalm that subsequent generations of God’s people should praise him for previous deliverances. We should include both aspects in our statements of praise to the Lord: there should be a sense of confidence in him even when powerful foes are ranged against his kingdom, and we should rehearse in his ear the wonderful deliverances he has provided for his church in the past.

God’s intervention on behalf of his people had revealed his greatness to them. His intervention also made them realise how much he valued Zion. After all, it is his city (v. 1). The psalmist also calls it God’s holy mountain (a reminder that his cause is above the earthly), with its height revealing its beauty. A devout Israelite would look on Jerusalem with wonder because he knew that God ruled within it, that his presence made the worshipper realise that nothing else on earth could compare with God’s city, that it was the only one that he protected from within (vv. 1-3). The privileges that once belonged to the earthly Jerusalem now are located in the church of Christ, and this reality should cause us to assess whether or not our appreciation of the church is greater than what an Israelite thought of Jerusalem. The church has a secure foundation, it is governed by King Jesus who regards it as his royal residence, and it is destined for glory.

When the Israelites gathered for worship, they thought about the covenant love of God (v. 9). They would have many expressions of it to think about, going right back to the beginning of their history. The whole world had heard of the incredible deliverances he had wrought (an example is the people of Jericho who heard about God’s actions in Egypt when he delivered Israel from there, Joshua 2:8-11), and throughout the earth many marvelled at the greatness of the God of Israel (v. 10). In a far higher sense, the church has the privilege when worshipping to think about God and his blessings (pardon, protection, provisions); it also has the task of informing the world of the great things Jesus has done, and when the peoples of the world hear the gospel many of them marvel at it and praise God for it.

Thinking about the Lord and his activities on behalf of his people led the Israelites to rejoice in him (vv. 11-13). They were urged to travel through the city and note places of importance. We too should walk around the church of Christ and note what it possesses. I heard a preacher once say that it had a hospital (where Christ the physician cures his people), a law court (where Jesus the judge pardons them), a library (where Jesus records his victories), a supermarket (where Jesus provides for their needs without cost), and a harbour (from where Jesus takes his people to glory). The psalmist says we should become familiar with its geography in order to pass on our discoveries to those who follow after us in the church. I assume he also means that the next generation should ask members of the previous one what they found in the city of God.

Verse 14 is a marvellous verse: ‘God is our God forever and ever.’ We cannot say this about anyone else or anything else. Furthermore, ‘he will guide us forever’. He is our shepherd in this life, and he will be our shepherd in the next as well.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Psalm 47 - Protection and victory

This psalm was composed for an occasion of national celebration that recognised the kingship of God, not only over Israel but also over all the earth (v. 2). His rule over all the earth was revealed in defeating powerful enemies, and some commentators link the psalm to the deliverance God gave to Hezekiah when Sennacherib was besieging Jerusalem (after all, Sennacherib imagined he was king of all the earth, but he discovered that he could not defeat God). We can read about that period in Isaiah 36.

Yet the contents of the psalm seem to focus on the time when Israel received the land (vv. 3-4). Obtaining the land of Israel took a long time – although the campaign began with Joshua, it was David who finally took control of Jerusalem from the Jebusites. The psalm seems to describe the procession that accompanied the arrival of the king in Jerusalem, and we can understand why it would be a time of great celebration involving the high and the low among the population.

Of course, the psalm points to a greater event that the arrival of David in his capital city. The occasion that it truly describes is the arrival of Jesus in heaven when he ascended there. He ascended as the one who is the divine king of all the earth (v. 2), who had defeated his enemies and provided an inheritance for his followers (vv. 3-4). His entrance to heaven was marked by jubilation (vv. 5-6) because the inhabitants realised that he was going to reign over the nations on behalf of his people, protecting them when necessary (vv. 7-9).

In a manner similar to how David and his people praised God for keeping his promises to Israel, we also can gather to praise him for his promises to us. What the Lord desires to hear from us is ‘loud songs of joy’ as we celebrate the ongoing triumphs of King Jesus. We gather to praise him as the covenant God (the God of Abraham, v.9) who has promised to use his power to bless the nations.

This psalm is both a worship song and a missionary celebration. Maybe it is telling us that worship and evangelism go together, that the evidence we have grasped the significance of the ascension of Christ is that we spread his fame wherever we are.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Psalm 46 - God is with us

The background to the psalm is an invasion by enemies of Israel or Judah (v. 9). Some scholars think that the psalm describes the invasion by Sennacherib during the reign of Hezekiah. That may be the case, although the thrust of the psalm, which is that God is always present with his people, is true in a wide variety of situations.

No doubt, Israel had an army, but the psalmist was fully aware that he could not trust in soldiers for effective defence. His attitude was realistic because Israel was a very small nation and by itself could not defend itself or defeat its attackers. But they had a Defender who would also provide victory for his people. In fact, it did not matter what happened, God would protect and strengthen them, even if nature itself should be in upheaval (vv. 1-3). This is a difficult lesson to learn – God alone is our defence and God alone can give victory. Of course, it is not a reason for apathy; instead it should inspire confidence because if God is for us, who can be against us?

In ancient times, the great fear of a besieged city was that its water supply would be cut off. Jerusalem was supplied by the Kidron and by the pools of Siloam. The psalmist used these earthly sources of water to depict the presence of God with his people in times of enemy onslaught. As long as the Lord dwelt in a special manner in the temple in Jerusalem, there would be ongoing evidences of his presence as he defended the city and provided it with deliverances. The outcome was that the inhabitants had joyful confidence in God; they were aware that the Lord of the heavenly armies (the Lord of hosts) was with them (vv. 4-7).

These verses (4-7) are a picture of the church. She is under attack constantly in one way or another, sometimes from within, sometimes from without. In all these situations, she discovers that her only help is God. During times of difficulty he gives evidences of his presence, and these evidences are signs that he is defending her and providing her with strength.

The psalmist encourages God’s worshippers (initially the psalm was designed for use in temple worship) to consider carefully and with a sense of wonder the activity of God in overcoming their enemies (vv. 8-9). In verses 1-9, the psalmist has been speaking about God, but in verse 10 God speaks about himself. It looks as if he is addressing the invading nations when he tells them to ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ This verse is often used to calm down the anxious, but here it is a warning from God to those who are plotting attacks against his kingdom. He points out that such activities are futile because he will be exalted.

In contrast, the psalmist rehearses the permanent reality enjoyed by God’s people (v. 11). God will defend his people, he is their only fortress. The author uses two titles to describe God. First, he is ‘the Lord of hosts’, he is the commander of the only super power that exists, and he cannot be defeated. Defeat only comes to his people when they depart from him. Second, he is ‘the God of Jacob’. Whatever else may be said about Jacob, it is the case that he became a penitent sinner who trusted in God. If we imitate Jacob in this way, then we too can insert our name and describe the Lord as our God.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Psalm 45 - A Royal Wedding

The background to this psalm is a royal wedding which the author uses to depict a marriage between God and his people. Verses 6 and 7 are applied to Jesus in Hebrews 1.

There are some details in the psalm that belong to the earthly wedding and not to the fulfilment (for example, the reference to the queen in verse 9 probably refers to the mother of the Israelite king; the gift from Tyre in verse 12 is a reference to a friendly nation). If we try and find a fulfilment for every detail, we will miss the point of the psalm which is a pronouncement that God’s Son will yet have a bride.

The focus of the psalm opens with a description of the Israelite king as he waits for the entrance of the bride (v. 2). Then the psalmist depicts the sequence of events that led to this moment –the order of events described is a battle (vv. 3-5), followed by an enthronement (vv. 6-9), followed by an appeal to the woman (vv. 10-12), and finally the wedding (vv. 13-15). I don’t think it is too difficult to see in that sequence references to Calvary (the battle), the exaltation of Jesus (the enthronement), the worldwide spread of the gospel (the appeal to the woman) and the eternal state (the wedding banquet). We can consider the psalm’s meaning via these events.

The waiting King (v. 2)
The psalmist immediately describes the beauty of the King. It is possible to translate ‘therefore he has blessed you for ever’ as ‘because he has blessed you forever’. This would make the King’s beautiful appearance and wonderful speech the consequences of receiving God’s blessing, which raises the question, ‘When did he receive it?’ The psalm proceeds to tell us, and it begins with an account of a battle.

The battle (vv. 3-5)
The battle resulted in a comprehensive victory for the king over all his enemies. We don’t know which historical event in the history of Israel is described here. But we do know that Jesus through his cross and subsequent resurrection defeated powerful opponents (powers of darkness, death). No earthly triumph, not even in the history of Israel, can compare with the conquest he achieved, and he did so without the help of an army.

The enthronement (vv. 6-9)
The psalm here moves beyond an earthly coronation. We are informed that the king is God (v. 6), yet blessed by God (v. 7). These verses indicate the plurality of persons in the Godhead. The only event that fits this description is Christ’s exaltation when the Father installed his Son, upon his ascension to glory, on the eternal throne. Of course, the throne belongs to Jesus (‘your throne’), he will reign righteously over his kingdom (v. 6b), and he receives a special reward from God because he lived a holy life prior to his ascension (v. 7). This reward is described as ‘the oil of joy’, a picture of Jesus receiving the Holy Spirit (promised to him by the Father), and he receives more of him than any of his friends did or could (v. 7). The obtaining of this blessing increases the influence of the King (the aroma spreads round the King’s palace), a reminder that the exalted Christ fills the air of heaven with ravishing perfume (to borrow Rutherford’s phrase). The imagery of joyful music and happy royal servants (vv. 8-9) contributes to the sense of delightful majesty that the psalmist is describing, and that is what heaven is like with Jesus on the throne.

The appeal (vv. 10-12)
The psalmist now refers to an unidentified person and urges her to listen carefully to his words. If she forgets her native life, she will become beautiful in the King’s eyes and will serve him freely as his bride. It is the gospel call that the psalmist is depicting, a call that invites sinners into the warm embrace of Christ. Although the gospel offer is free, its benefits come to those who leave the old life and submit to Jesus. The outcome will be that such receive great privileges, pictures here by the psalmist’s allusion to the riches of Tyre (in other words, believers in Jesus will receive the best).

The wedding (vv. 13-15)
In the imagery of the psalm, the bride has now arrived in the surroundings of the palace. She is dressed in glorious robes, and is escorted in to meet the king, the procession marked by great joy as it moves along. The arrival in the surroundings of the palace depicts the resurrection day, the glorious robes are the garments of perfect holiness, and the joyful procession is the public acknowledgement that the bride of Jesus will be with him for ever.

This graphic account of the King and his bride gives great assurance to the author as he thinks about the future of God’s kingdom (v. 16). There will be a royal seed of the King throughout the earth.

Going back to verse 2, we can now see that the words of grace that come from the King’s lips are connected to anticipating the arrival of his bride in his palace. Her mind is focussed on being with him, and his affections are focussed on her and what he will provide for her, because she will share his blessings for ever.

In verse 1, the unknown psalmist found his heart overflowing with love to the King – this is the preparation for worship; then he spoke to the King about his achievements and intentions – that is participating in worship; in verse 17, there is personal commitment to serve the King – which is the outcome of worship.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Psalm 44 - Faithful in Dark Times

The background to the psalm is an occasion when the armies of Israel had been defeated (vv. 9-16). Such an experience perplexed the author for two reasons: first, God had delivered his people in the past, particularly when he gave to them the land of Canaan and enabled them to defeat the original inhabitants (vv. 1-3); second, the Israelites were trusting in the Lord for victory (vv. 4-8). Although they were perplexed, they reaffirmed their dedication to God (vv. 17-21) and engaged in earnest prayer to him that he would come and deliver them (vv. 22-26).

A similar dilemma confronts God’s people many times (an obvious example is times of persecution). They know that the Lord did great things in the past and they want to see his blessing in the present. Yet sometimes, despite their best intentions they experience disappointment and defeat. When that happens, they may be tempted to give up. The psalmist tells us in this psalm that the spiritual response is to remain devoted to God and inundate his throne with earnest petitions for his blessing. While we may never know why God allows a defeat, we can deduce the dangers connected to a wrong response. These dangers are (1) to stop serving God and (2) to stop praying to God.

The psalmist’s use of history in verses 1-3 is instructive. His description of the conquest of Canaan is presented as a statement of worship (God did it all) and as a petition in prayer (he is reminding the Lord that he can repeat the deliverance). This is how we should treat records of God’s blessings in the past. We should not give the glory to men (be they great preachers or evangelists or missionaries) and we should use the details of what took place as arguments for persuading God to answer prayer.

In verses 4-6, the congregation in Israel may be doing one of two things. One option is that their words, which describe a great victory in battle, may be a means of identifying themselves with what God did in the past (after all, they were members of the same nation as experienced God’s help centuries previously). The other option is that the current congregation previously had also enjoyed a God-given victory. Whichever option is right does not affect the intended outcome, which was confidence that the Lord would help his people.

Yet as verses 9-16 reveal, Israel had experienced defeat instead of victory. The defeat was crushing and overwhelming. We may be surprised at how the congregation explain the defeat – they say it was God’s choice. The words of the psalmist are not expressions of rebellion, rather they were an acknowledgement of reality. He knew, just as we know, that the Lord could easily provide a victory comparable to the conquest of Canaan. Since his God had not given the victory, the only valid conclusion was that he had withheld it. It is good to acknowledge God’s sovereignty even in the midst of great disappointment.

The congregation responded to their defeat by examining themselves for defects, and having not found any, they determined to remain loyal to God (vv. 17-20). They did not use a temporary setback as a reason for imagining there would not be future success. Faith can be as clear-sighted in a storm as it is in the calm. Easier said than done, yet easier when done as a united group.

One reaction to disappointment is fatalism; when a setback occurs, we merely accept it as if nothing else could happen. The Israelites here did not descend into fatalism. Instead they became very brave in their prayers (vv. 22-26). The addressed the Almighty with honesty and hope.